The Plague-Ground — You’re at a movie in a packed theatre. You smell smoke.
You see flames flicker up from an empty seat in front of you. You’re tempted to stand up and yell “Fire!” But you don’t because that may cause a stampede and trample people. In fact, isn’t that why it’s against the law to yell “Fire!” in a theatre? Also, you’re an introvert and have a frog in your throat.
But when you see flames in the row behind you, you overcome your reluctance. You stand up and yell “Fire!” like you’ve never yelled anything in your life. Everyone turns to look at you. A few people rush to the exits. Others gather up their coats and slowly leave. Still others stand up, look around and sit down again. But most just sit there and go back to what’s on the screen. You hear the woman beside you turn to her mate and whisper “nutter” under her breath.
That seems to be what Canada’s public health officials are feeling this past week as they warned the politicians to do something about Canada’s infection rates that in some places are rising faster than in Spain and Italy in April.
Two weeks ago, Manitoba’s doctors warned the government “ we are in grave peril” if it didn’t re-up funding to fight COVID. It was their second letter in a week. To no avail. On the weekend, the Manitoba government reported the highest infection rate since the pandemic began.
Also last week Alberta’s doctors wrote Jason Kenney to say: ‘If this rate of increase continues unabated, our acute care health system will be overrun in the near future.’ They called for a ‘circuit-breaker lockdown’ to slow the frightening rise in COVID cases. On Friday, Alberta hit a record-breaking 644 cases a day.
Letter writing doesn’t seem to be working as a pandemic-flattening strategy. Certainly not a letter from your doctor. Nor speeches. Nor advice. This deafness to experts is the most frightening thing of all, except of course political leaders saying they’re taking the advice of their medical and scientific experts — and then ignoring it.
On Thursday, Premier Ford’s health experts warned that if Ontario didn’t take harsh measures right away, it “will have more cases per capita than France, Germany and the United Kingdom in the coming weeks.” The number they used was up to 6,500 new cases per day. These days, it’s around 1,500 a day. But remember in the summer when it was 100 per day? That’s how epidemic math works.
So on Friday, Premier Ford put more Ontario cities in the Red Zone and said: “We’re staring down the barrel of another lockdown. And I will not hesitate for a second if we have to go further.”
The key word here is “hesitate” because while Mr. Ford says he won’t, too often he has, as have the other Premiers, especially now that the pandemic is reaching numbers that some US states are enduring. They’re trying to do the impossible: keep the economy running long enough so that it isn’t pronounced DOA when the vaccine arrives and the fog lifts, and keep as many of us as possible from getting sick and dying before then.
But no one’s approach is working anymore, except the Atlantic Provinces which created their own bubble in June and now have Lilliputian infection rates.
There is one place we can learn from whose experience with the Second Wave is very different from our own.
On Saturday, Kelly Grant, the Globe and Mail’s health reporter, told the story of the Australian state of Victoria, and its capital city of Melbourne. I urge you to read it as a cautionary tale of what we may have to do here.
“Victoria eventually beat back the virus by testing widely, tracing contacts aggressively and enforcing some of the most Draconian restrictions in the democratic world.”
These include an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, residents allowed out just one hour a day for exercise or to buy groceries, and no travel beyond 5 kilometres from home. Police also handed out on the spot fines of up to $1,575 for people who broke the rules and $10,000 for businesses who did. If you didn’t wear a mask in public, you were fined $200.
None of this is pleasant. But the truth of what The Economist wrote months ago grows more urgent every day: “You may have tired of the coronavirus. It has not tired of you.”
My hope is, now that politicians are feeling the heat, they’ll see the light.